The Curious Case of 1936

Lately it seems like each heat wave brings new all-time records with it, like one that went from Late July to Early August this year. As the planet continues to slowly warm, more and more of these heat waves are expected to occur. However, outside of 2012, we haven’t seen a heat wave like the record setting one in 1936. Extreme heat wasn’t the only noteworthy weather event of that year though, as the temperature see-saw tipped the other way in an unprecedented way just a few months earlier.

As the Dust Bowl era started to take over the Central US, the previous few winters had been relatively mild. When November 1935 came around, cold snaps started to take hold in the Pacific Northwest, as ID, OR, WA, and ND all saw top 10 coldest Novembers on record. The cold extended eastward into December 1935 as much of the southeast (FL, GA, SC) saw their second-coldest Decembers on record. After a large mid-month storm in January, cold air started taking a firm grip over the eastern US, with OH and IL reporting wind chills below -80F (using the old formula) and ND seeing the month’s average temperature of a frigid -6.9F

February 1936 was the main event. NE, ND, and SD recorded their coldest month of all time, while a total of 9 states reported their coldest February ever. SD saw -58F and ND dipped to -60 along with MT. Devil’s Lake, ND had an average temperature of -21 from the last week of January through the end of February. Fargo stayed below 32F from Dec 14 thru March 1st. Schools throughout the Midwest, Great Plains, and Pacific Northwest were all closed due to the extreme temperatures and snowdrifts, leading to supply shortages throughout the region. It wasn’t until mid-March that temperatures finally started warming up and people could recover, although this lead to flooding due to the ground being frozen to a deep layer.

A few months later, ridiculous heat engulfed the Central US. The driest summer on record occurred for 9 Plains and Midwest states, further contributing to dust storms sweeping throughout the record. Combined with record warm summers for everywhere from MT to KY, this contributed to widespread suffering on farmsteads throughout the US. Steele, ND hit a blazing 121F, still the state’s highest temperature. Ohio hit 110F, while 13 other states all hit all-time high temperatures that remain to this day. Lincoln, NE recorded a LOW temperature of 91F on the morning of July 25th before setting the city’s all-time high of 115F that afternoon. The heat continued into August, where Arkansas and Oklahoma both hit temperatures of 120F on August 10th, while LA hit 116F 2 days later along with Texas joining the 120F club as well. A total of 17 states set or tied their all-time record high temperatures, all of which remain to this day (Kansas also hit 121F, joining ND atop the sweltering leaderboard)

Hopefully it’s a long time until we see such prolonged extreme weather, since our country’s infrastructure and population has increased exponentially since then, the human toll would be that much worse.